In the final days of Vladimir Putin’s pageant, reminders abound about the reality to which we all will soon return after this weekend. For the leader of Russia, the revolutionary events (captured in incredible, horrific yet other-worldly photographs taken in and around central Kiev) against his allied regime in Ukraine are a little too close for comfort. Meanwhile, in the U.S., Pompeii is leading a slew of questionable film releases in the ‘graveyard’ weekend before the Oscar ceremonies next Sunday, raising questions about its own historical accuracy as director Paul W. S. Anderson (Resident Evil) strives to re-make history into a Titanic epic.
The White Warrior (1959) is a perfect film for these thoughts, and it’s available free with FilmOn’s VOD service. An Italian/Yugoslavian production with the legendary Mario Bava as assistant director and cinematographer, this is a film never to let history (or Leo Tolstoy, one of history’s greatest novelists, on whose Hadji Murat (1912) the film is very loosely based) get in the way of spectacle.
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Even so, in its own dream-like fashion, White Warrior conveys a sense of real horror and tragi-comedic farce. Starring Steve Reeves in his first film after his iconic Hercules (1958) and Hercules Unchained (1959), and just one film before his own Last Days of Pompeii (also 1959 — he actually made five films that year), it tells the story of Hadji Murad, a key early 19th Century Avar Muslim chieftain in a region that today straddles the nation of Azerbaijan and the highly volatile and socially complex Russian province of Dagestan.
Murad attempts to forge his own precarious path between defending his homeland against the encroaching Russian Empire (whose forces are led by the Prussian-caricatured Gérard Herter as Prince Sergei Vorontzov, under the comically lecherous watch of Milivoje Zivanovic as Tsar Nicholas I) and machinations within his own camp from Renato Baldini as Ahmed Khan whose tongue has the ear of King Shamil (Nikola Popovic, who would later appear in the first of the groovy ‘Kommissar X’ films 1966’s Kiss, Kiss, Kill, Kill).
Reeves being Reeves, there is a good deal of overt female swooning, mostly provided by Scilla Gabel as Vorontov’s Princess Maria Vorontsova, while Giorgia Moll as ‘Sultanet’ portrays a strong female counterpart.
And Bava being Bava, there are a lot of over-the-top visuals, from highly implausible special effects to strikingly lush and beautiful vistas. The occasionally-obviously-dubbed dialogue is ludicrously entertaining at times, but strangely that also adds to the sense of true chaos being depicted, something to which one might be attuned, after viewing the photos from Kiev and the trailers for Pompeii not many days after the strange, over-stimulating Sochi Opening Ceremonies.
The White Warrior is available via FilmOn.
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